Andrew Klavan is a hard-boiled detective novelist worth watching. As I noted in a review/interview 19 months ago (WORLD, Feb. 10, 2007), he has received two Edgars (named after Edgar Allen Poe) for top mystery-writing; his novels have been made into movies starring Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas; and he is now a Christian. Conversion has been a long and gradual process: "I became a Christian after some 35 years of thinking and reading everything I could get my hands on from Augustine to Zoroaster."
Our interview early in 2007 ended with Klavan's announcement of coming attractions: "I'm writing a book now-the first novel I've written from beginning to end as a baptized man-and it's so different from anything I've ever done and yet so completely and naturally the product of my personal vision that I can only watch it unfold with a sort of helpless fascination."
That novel, Empire of Lies (Harcourt), came out this summer, and in it Klavan comes through on his pledge to make it different from his previous work. His first-person narrator announces on page one that "I'm a political conservative and, even worse, a believing Christian." Because of that, the narrator-hero Jason Harrow declares, "The networks and the Times and all the rest have consistently depicted me as small-minded and pinch-hearted, a bigot and an ill-educated fool. My motives have been impugned, my past raked over for scandal, and my religious convictions ridiculed and dismissed."
And that's the way the book goes. It's a page-turner that brings in descriptions of godless man's depravity (some readers will object to bad language and recaps of Harrow's pre-conversion adultery) and slows down every few pages to drop in an overt Christian conservative point. Some readers tired of conventionally liberal novels will enjoy that and others will demand the complete separation of novel and tract.
My own feelings are mixed. Klavan's previous novel, Damnation Street, has a wonderful scene where the narrator follows his girlfriend through the streets near the University of California-Berkeley, trying to learn of her secret life. He watches her walk into a house and presses his nose to a back window. He witnesses a shocking scene involving his girl and others: "They were praying. They were Christians. Emma too. Emma was a Christian. I could not have been more shocked if I had looked in and seen her [expletive]. . . . What was she thinking? How could she possibly be a Christian?"
Some movie historians say the Motion Picture Code that held sway from the 1930s to the mid-60s was helpful to filmmakers: Since they couldn't depict sex they had to show romance. The films where Fred Astaire showed Ginger Rogers his love by dancing were better than if the director had been able to tell them to take their clothes off and perform sinuous maneuvers in bed.
Klavan, obviously feeling his liberated oats in Empire of Lies, has improved his work by giving his central character the ability to offer some hardboiled political and cultural analysis, but in the process he's lost some of the dance. He's a pitcher with a great curveball and sinker who has added a fastball but does not yet completely control it.
If hard-boiled fiction is too hard for you, read about people inspired to help others. Barbara Metzler's Passionaries (Templeton Foundation, 2006) includes 35 tales of people-helping nonprofits that have succeeded through the leadership of social entrepreneurs. Amber Van Schooneveld's Hope Lives (Group, 2008) attempts to move readers in five weeks from guilt about expanding waistlines to a commitment to help the impoverished wastelands of the world.
Also, Tedd and Margy Tripp's Instructing a Child's Heart (Shepherd, 2008) is a biblical and practical sequel to Shepherding a Child's Heart. John Hubner's Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth (Random House paperbacks, 2008) offers hope for young people whose hearts were unshepherded.